To get the benefits of exercise, you don't have to work out for hours a day, several days a week. New research from Duke University in North Carolina indicates that moderate exercise gives plenty of benefits and may even be better for you than intense exercise. And the effects last a surprisingly long time.
Exercise physiologist Cris Slentz studied 240 middle-aged people, divided randomly into four groups of 60 each. The control group did no exercise. One group walked about 18 kilometers per week - and another covered that distance at a jog. The fourth group exercised even more vigorously, and for longer periods each week. Slentz says not surprisingly, the vigorous exercisers - the third and fourth groups - lost weight. They had lower triglycerides, a measure of blood fat, and lower levels of LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. But Slentz found some surprises when he looked at the walkers in the second group
The lower intensity exercise was far better at lowering triglycerides, which is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes� better than vigorous exercise - about twice as good. But even more interestingly, only the low intensity exercise caused maintenance of the low triglyceride levels.
In fact, Slentz says, the walkers could stop exercising for up to two weeks without losing the benefits of the activity. He says on the other hand, the control group that did no exercise got worse in many areas over the course of the nine-month study.
“We expected them to be fairly stable, but in fact they gained weight, and their visceral fat went one up by 8 percent, that's the intra-abdominal fat. Their LDL particles got worse. We just found a lot of things that got worse, and we didn't expect it and initially surprised us that so many things got worse in a short period of time.”
Slentz says he was encouraged to see how much good could be accomplished by a modest exercise regimen, such as the one followed by the walkers.
“To get the best benefits of exercise its good to think of it as like a medicine that every day you take it to get the benefits, the days you don't, the benefits start to wear off for the most part. Some of them wear off very quickly, but some of them don't wear off quite so quickly.”
Slentz says the gains people made from exercise were similar no matter the race, gender or age of the subjects. His research is published in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.